The Leonardo DiCaprio Epic Crime Drama On Streaming That Redefined American History

By Sean Thiessen | Updated

Leonardo DiCaprio in Gangs of New York

Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is scheduled to hit theaters next month, but it will not be the filmmaker’s first historical epic. 2002 saw the release of Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. The film ignited a partnership between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio that has yielded some of the finest films of the 21st century, and it is streaming now on Max.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese teamed up for the epic Gangs of New York, now streaming on Max.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Amsterdam Vallon, the son of an Irish immigrant living in 1860s New York City. As a boy, Amsterdam witnesses his father’s murder, and he returns as a man to get revenge on the man responsible.

That man is Bill ‘The Butcher’ Cutting, a territorial “native” of New York played by the inimitable Daniel Day-Lewis. Leonardo DiCaprio and his co-star shine as they duel each other in this detailed look at the early days of New York City. They are joined by Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, and more.

Martin Scorsese started thinking about Gangs of New York before Leonardo DiCaprio was even born. Growing up in New York City in the 1950s, Scorsese recalled seeing the headstones of people from the 1800s, many of which bore Irish names. He became fascinated by the origins of his beloved city and the culture wars it was built on.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York

Scorsese read Herbert Asbury’s 1927 book The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld in 1970, and his eyes were opened to the mysteries of the city’s past. (For those keeping score, Leonardo DiCaprio had still not been born.)

The 1970s proved fruitful for Martin Scorsese, and by 1979, he had acquired the rights to turn Asbury’s book into a film. For years, the project gathered dust, hindered by the insurmountable production costs of recreating 1860s New York. Gangs of New York bounced from studio to studio through the 1990s until it finally landed at Miramax.

Martin Scorsese started thinking about Gangs of New York before Leonardo DiCaprio was even born.

Leonardo DiCaprio boarded the project, which also had Robert De Niro and Willem Dafoe attached, until they had to depart due to scheduling conflicts. After years of rewrites and months of dialect training, the cast and crew headed to a giant soundstage in Rome. Inside was production designer Dante Ferretti’s mile-long recreation of 1862’s Five Points neighborhood in New York City.

As Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis turned in golden performances on camera, disputes between Martin Scorsese and Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein bubbled behind the scenes. The production blew past its $100 million budget, but on March 30, 2001, principal photography finally ended.

Gangs of New York

In the editing room, rumors of further disputes between the film’s director and producer spread. Martin Scorsese later stated that reported conflicts about the film’s runtime and commercial appeal were merely misconstrued conversations about how to make the best movie possible. Despite anecdotes hinting at a longer cut preferred by Scorsese, the director stands by the theatrical version.

The September 11 attacks delayed the Leonardo DiCaprio film by a whole year. Set to release on Christmas Day in 2002, it now faced another problem: Leonardo DiCaprio was also the star of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can, and it was already slated for the holiday.

Gangs of New York was moved to December 20, 2002. It amassed over $193 million at the box office and garnered generally favorable reviews from critics. Many praised the film for its painstaking historical elements and powerhouse performances, particularly from Daniel Day-Lewis, who was nominated for an Academy Award.

Leonardo DiCaprio And Martin Scorsese’s Partnership

Since then, Leonardo DiCaprio has continued to collaborate with Martin Scorsese. The pair worked together on The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, and The Wolf of Wall Street. They will reunite once again for this year’s Killers of the Flower Moon, which tells a sprawling story of oil, murder, and the formation of the FBI in 1920s Oklahoma.

Martin Scorsese already has his sights on another project with Leonardo DiCaprio; the pair are attached to The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder. The film is based on another book by Killers of the Flower Moon author David Gann.

Together, Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese have forged one of Hollywood’s most explosive creative partnerships. Catch the first entry in their dynamite collaboration with Gangs of New York on Max today.